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Michael Antonovich on 2019 Atlanta SX

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Mercedez-Benz Stadium Atlanta, GA Atlanta Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship

Story by Michael Antonovich 

When things went sideways for all of us at TransWorld Motocross last month, Matthes quickly offered me work to stay busy. I’ve known Steve for 10 years now (I met him at the Toronto airport in 2009, two weeks into my “internship” at TWMX, that eventually led to a full-time job) and we’ve become close friends, as we are similar in some ways and complete opposites in others. And that’s what made his offer to cover the 2019 Atlanta Supercross as a PulpMX.com employee impossible to pass up. I’m on one of those often-mentioned group chats and there were quite a few jokes and ideas on how I could really channel my inner Matthes (annoy teams, drink coffee, meet fans, talk on Twitter) in his absence. Did I succeed? Read on.

I started with Friday’s media riding session. Since Atlanta was the first 250SX East/West Showdown of the year, the top riders from both coasts were on hand to talk and spin laps. Some reporters use Friday as their chance to get last-minute content for their sites, but after spending entire evenings transcribing interviews that got limited page views and were pointless by Saturday evening, I typically use media day as a chance to look over the motorcycles and make small talk with riders and the teams. What’d I learn in Atlanta? Jordon Smith is barely riding through the week due to the deep bone bruise on his wrist from a late-race crash in Arlington and by barely, I mean he is limited to just starts. This is a bummer for the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM rider because I figured he would be a contender for the East Region title against Austin Forkner.

Martin Castelo told me his new deal with JMC Motorsports will run through the rest of the 250SX West Region, and even though he got a few days of testing on the Husqvarna before the race, he only met most of the team for the first time in Atlanta.

RJ Hampshire and I discussed his drive from California to Florida with his wife in their motorhome after the initial West Coast run wrapped up and his weekly program. Hampshire has built his own place in Florida and rides alongside guys like Cedric Soubeyras and Dean Wilson. Yeah, Dean isn’t at the Baker’s Factory anymore, and I found that surprising. But then again, riders change riding spots all the time, and Dean’s prior status as a “privateer” probably had a part in the decision.

I told Forkner my theory on his post-race Pixy Stix and ice cream intake: even if the dextrose in the candy was for energy and recovery, doing it in front of everyone was some sort of head game. He seemed to enjoy that and didn’t really deny it, so take that for what it’s worth. 

Hampshire biffed the rhythm lane after the first turn and I noted how challenging that section would be through the weekend. Not long after that, Sean Cantrell stacked it up at the end of the same lane and was tended to by the medics; the resulting wrist injury kept Cantrell out for the weekend and possibly longer. While most riders clicked off “laps,” Mike Alessi opted to run through the same rhythm section over and over. Injuries to the Smartop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts Honda roster meant that the team needed a short-notice fill-in rider and Alessi was their obvious go-to, but he hadn’t raced SX in almost two years, and hadn’t raced at all in about eight months (a shoulder injury last June and a facial injury in September sidelined him for much of the past year). He had only a handful of days of supercross training to get ready. With all that said, it makes sense that he dialed in the timing for the rhythm section instead of going through the sand over and over.

Rich Shepherd

Once riding was done, I headed to the pits for some conversation and my first coffee courtesy of Kawasaki. Their fully automated Jura machine is one of the nicest in the pit area and with a few pushes of a button, I had a double espresso for the drive to the hotel.

On Saturday I woke up early, prepped my camera equipment for the day, and filled out the blank check that was sent to my hotel by Throttle Syndicate, which had to be cashed on the way to the track. The graphics company put up $4,000 for the 250SX East/West Showdown and if a Troy Lee Designs/ Red Bull KTM or Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki rider won the main event, they’d get $3,000  of the money, while the fifth-place finisher in the 250SX LCQ got $1,000. But if TLD KTM or PC Kawasaki rider didn’t win the Showdown, that fifth-place LCQ finisher would get all of the money. After a quick search for Wells Fargo location, a long wait in line, and transaction with a teller that stood behind inches of bulletproof glass, I had an envelope of hundred-dollar bills in my pocket. Whew.

The Atlanta Supercross is known for the rich, red clay that stains everything it comes in contact with, but in recent years, the Dirt Wurx crew has made it a point to add a deep sand section into the layout. This time they put it in the corner that led up to the over-under bridge, ala Glendale 2017. Props to Feld Entertainment and Dirt Wurx for always trying to spice up a circuit, but I think we can all agree that the best sand section of recent memory was the full straightaway in Tampa last year and that putting it in a turn often results in one good line. As for the rest of the track, the layout was very similar to some of the other football stadiums that the series has visited this year. There must be some sort of reasoning for the similar tracks, but I’m not complaining much because they’ve seemed very safe (note the lack of massive opening lap crashes that have occurred thus far) and have made for closer racing.

Jeff Kardas

Some riders, however, don’t seem thrilled by the cookie-cutter layout and when I asked in the post-race press conference what the 450SX podium thought of the recent designs, all three were quick to offer an opinion.

“I feel like the tracks have been a little bit quite the same and I wonder why,” stated Marvin Musquin. “The West Coast tracks to me were awesome and I thought it was the layout of the baseball fields. I thought they were trying to be creative. For example, Anaheim 2 to me was such a nice track with split lanes and stuff, it was really technical. Now on the East Coast, it’s a good thing the dirt is soft, and it makes it very difficult and technical because of the ruts and the bumps. But there is nothing very difficult and technical like we saw in the beginning of the season.”

Blake Baggett’s opinion pinned the designs more to the general rectangle shape of the football stadiums. “I think they are trying to use as much floor space as they can. When you look at it, all of the football stadiums are basically the same floor print so they can try to do the best they can with the layout," he said. "It seems to have better racing when it flows like this and I think the only way to make it gnarlier or to have more passing is to make the obstacles steeper and make everything bigger to slow it down. The pace of the rhythm lane is so fast compared to what it used to be that I think they can use a layout like this but make everything bigger and stepper to slow the speeds down and make it not so one-lined in sections.”

I watched the final round of timed qualifying in the stands with a friend and from our vantage point, it was clear that riders were having some issues with the ruts and soft soil, particularly the bowl turn and the on-off before the finish line. By the end of the 250SX sessions, the preferred line was to cut the right-hand turn as tight as possible, hop across the last few inches of smooth soil on the tabletop that was on the right side, and then hook left up the face of the finish line. Team managers took note of the track conditions in this area and it seemed like these spots were the first to be fixed during the intermissions of the night show. To me, the track held up much better through the night’s racing than it did the daytime program. 

Jeff Kardas

Between practice sessions, I set up shop in the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s hospitality rig and edited photos with my first of two double espressos, this one from the team’s Lavazza machine. While Matthes is very familiar with the aforementioned Jura at Kawi, I don’t think he knows anything about the capsule maker in the Husky rig. [Editor’s note: Jason Anderson’s presence has kept Matthes away from that rig for years.]

I caught a few minutes of the Husqvarna team’s post-practice video debrief, which was full of jokes and jabs between riders for their near-crashes and quick lines. Michael Mosiman asked me if every truck was like this, and really, they aren’t. Sure, there are plenty of jokes to hear or things to learn during the debrief, but most are limited to just a one or two riders with a trusted team member. Husqvarna is special because their 450 and 250 guys have such a wide variety of personalities and are almost always together, while the other OEMs separate 250 and 450 rosters into different trucks.

One of my many stops at Team Honda HRC occurred just as Ken Roczen talked with no less than six people about the way the bike felt on the track, including his father Heikko and retired racer-turned-tester Trey Canard. Everyone is waiting for Roczen to get that first win since 2017 and I think it’s imminent, but it seems like so many missed opportunities are starting to frustrate the 94. He’s saved face a few times this year with gracious podium interviews when other riders probably would have melted down, but he knows it’s time to score a win. A win by Roczen would interrupt Cooper Webb’s newfound momentum, even for a weekend, and would help him close the gap separating the two. Thirteen points out of the top spot is the best position that Roczen has ever been nine rounds into a supercross season and there’s a lot of racing left. 

Monster Energy Factory Yamaha’s rig was quiet, due in part to just one rider for the weekend. Sounds like the crash and concussion that Justin Barcia had last Wednesday was a big one so I wouldn’t be surprised if he sat out a few more races to get back to full health. Aaron Plessinger recently moved his whole crew to Florida to ride alongside Barcia every day at Bam Bam’s private spread and this could be the start of something good for AP7. He spent all of last summer in California at the direction of the Monster Energy/Yamalub/Star Racing Yamaha team and to wait for the birth of his son, but the Florida weather and lifestyle, challenging tracks, and intensity of a full-time 450 practice partner could be a big benefit. You can only ride Glen Helen and Pala so many times.

After I ate lunch at the JGRMX/Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing team setup with Kyle Peters (thanks for the Buca di Beppo, Truman), I swung by the Monster Energy Kawasaki truck for one last coffee and a talk with Theo Lockwood about his information in the Kawasaki Science of Supercross segments. Midway through the chat, Martin Davalos stepped in and the topic turned to his setup. The Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki rider admitted that he hasn’t been himself in 2019, but he said that recent suspension changes and a mental decision to flow with the track instead of attack should solve the problem. I asked Marty if this really is his last year, something he told my normal boss Donn Maeda in Minneapolis, and he didn’t really confirm or deny it. Hmm… 

I decided to spend the full night shooting on the floor, something I haven’t done at a U.S. SX in years. Although the press box at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is second to none on the schedule, it’s often the dumping ground for anyone given a VIP pass and can be too chaotic to get work done. Turns out this year it was a ghost town. Whatever. If you have ever gotten low seats at a supercross, then you know how easy it is to miss something that happens on the other side of the track due obstacles blocking the view. Well, standing on the floor is about five times worse. I like being down there because it lets me really take in the technique and line choices of riders, but it’s not the easiest when it comes to watching the entire race. If you stood on the side of the track near the finish line, you couldn’t see the first turn and vice versa. And that’s how I missed the crash that took down Zach Osborne, Alex Ray, and Adam Enticknap but allowed Jared Lesher and Cole Martinez to snag spots well within the top-nine. I didn’t know the full extent of what happened until I watched the race on Sunday. Maybe I’ll shoot from the front row of the stands from now on.

While we’re on the heat races, the second 450SX heat race is a prime example of how important it is for a rider to get a start this year. Baggett got the holeshot and sped away from Musquin and Webb; Musquin held third for most of the race until a decisive pass by Webb that occurred in the final feet of track. The same trio got to the front of the pack in the 450SX main event, this time with Webb at the front and Musquin and Baggett in pursuit. If all three of those riders had gotten the holeshot, I think they would have held the lead from beginning to end the way Baggett did in the heat race and Webb did in the main event.

Let’s go through the results, Matthes style, and I’ll point out whatever I heard about or saw from the riders.

Jeff Kardas

AC is basically doing the opposite of what he has always done, as he’s stayed in California for the full SX season in order to be by the team and coach Nick Wey. The structure looks to be helping, as Cianciarulo has been solid and holds three wins. The knuckles on his left hand were missing skin after an opening lap brush with Austin Forkner’s motorcycle (watch the GoPro footage to see what happened exactly), but it didn’t faze him in the 15-minute race. He tracked down both Chase Sexton and Forkner in his push from third to first; getting a clear run at the three-one jump combination before the triple helped cut his lap times down.

2nd | Dylan Ferrandis

Ferrandis doesn’t seem like a guy that is bothered by past events at certain venues. Last year in Atlanta, the Monster Energy/Yamalub/Star Racing Yamaha rider left with a broken arm, cracked jaw, and fewer teeth. This year in Atlanta, he worked his way up to second place and kept one of his title rivals in sight for practically the whole race. Oh, and he posted the fastest lap of the 250SX main event, a 47.922.

3rd | Austin Forkner

Yeah, you’re not going to shake Forkner’s confidence right now. Technically, this was the first race that Forkner has lost this year but in our post-race talk, he explained that he was still the top East Coast racer and that’s basically a win. He and AC both hold double-digit point leads in their respective regions and if all goes well, Mitch Payton could going to get his first SX sweep since 2010 with Jake Weimer and Christophe Pourcel. 

4th | Chase Sexton

The GEICO Honda rider doesn’t get some of the credit he deserves. This is only the second year for Sexton in supercross (Atlanta 2017 was his rookie race and he left with a broken femur after a practice crash) but he’s on pace to win a main event and already has solidified his status as “title contender” in 2020.

Jeff Kardas

Copy-paste what was said about Sexton being set to win a main event and fight for a title in 2020 for Cooper, but change it to year one in supercross and swap the early career deriding crash to brutal concussion at Houston 2018. Cooper is a bit quiet and unassuming without a helmet on, but when it’s time to ride, he’s not afraid to try a risky jump combination.

6th | Shane McElrath

Shane’s so-so season continued with a sixth place in Atlanta. Look, third place in the championship is great and this isn’t a full knock on McElrath, but one win and two podiums is a “light” year for a guy that had… one win and two podiums at the same time last year. Well, hmm. Anyway, he’s usually in contention for the 250SX West title, in general, so we’ll just go with that. Props to Shane for saying how he was thinking about Wilson Fleming during an interview that took place just a few minutes before the gate dropped. That’s the perfect indication of the person he is.

7th | Colt Nichols

Normal weekend for Nichols: fastest rider at various moments in qualifying, a solid heat race finish, and seventh in the main event. That A1 win and three podiums to start the year were incredible for Nichols’ confidence and he’s one of three riders in contention for second place of the 250SX West Region. This is a “learning year” and expect Nichols to be a contender from here on out, much like Seely was near the end of his 250SX career. 

8th | Martin Davalos

Man, it will be weird when Martin does eventually hang it up. We always talk about the void that will come from Chad’s retirement (one less rider to fight for a factory ride or for a front-running finish), but Martin will have just as big of an impact on the 250 class. 

[Editor’s note: Wow this is way different than Matthes. – Weege]

9th | Michael Mosiman

Compared to last year’s supercross mishaps, like the launch into the net and other crashes, Mosiman has made massive improvements. Michael is a fun conversation, as he typically turns the topic of conversation on the media person instead of himself or motorcycles. 

Rich Shepherd

The second-year rider is a solid pick-up for the CycleTrader/Rock River Yamaha team. Expectations for Hartranft seem to be modest, but he often delivers top-ten finishes. At this point, we should not be surprised when he finishes in the top half of the running order. Have to think that some full-factory 250SX teams have him on their radar by now. 

11th | Jacob Hayes

The last-ever Amsoil Arenacross champion showed AC how they did it in the hockey rinks during the first lap of the main event. Hayes has a good thing going with the CycleTrader/Rock River Yamaha team and really, it’s okay that he landed here instead of somewhere like Pro Circuit. Being on a smaller team for his first year in SX is giving him the chance to learn the ropes and make a good impression. 

12th |RJ Hampshire

On Instagram Hampshire said the Friday crash left him sore on Saturday. Like I said, it was a slam. He has a few weeks until Seattle to rest and recover.

13th | Chris Blose

A lot going on in Blose’s life. He and his wife have a kid on the way, he’s working with a team that’s based in his hometown of Phoenix, and he’s steadily putting out results at 30 years old. No, that’s not that old, but think of how long you’ve read Blose’s name in a race report.

14th | Alex Martin

On Instagram, A-Mart said that he had a head cold. No, I didn’t find that out on Saturday, because Alex stayed low key and I don’t have the same friendship he and Steve have. Plus, I missed track walk, which is when I usually find out about this stuff. 

[Editor’s note: Way, way different than Matthes. If we don’t get a Phil or Stew reference in here we’ve got problems. – Weege]

Rich Shepherd

One of those guys you can always count to be at the races, like Jiri Dostal or Ryan Clark were in the early 2000s. Cunningham was supposed to have a full team deal for 2019 but that fell through and left him without much just weeks before the start of the season. Todd Hansen, a guy that always has some sort of presence in the pits, and a few others, helped pull together an independent Honda deal ahead of Minneapolis and yeah, Kyle’s at the races.

16th | Cameron McAdoo

I don’t know how McAdoo made it through practice in one piece. At one point on Saturday, I looked up to see his GEICO Honda vertical in the air and with both of his feet dangling off the pegs. Somehow McAdoo aimed toward the side of the track, landed on the massive clumps of dirt past the Tuff Blocks and rode away unscathed. Look at Derik Dwyer’s Instagram for footage. 

17th | Jordan Bailey

This might be the most off-the-radar rookie roster in a while. Really, how much hype have you heard about Bailey or the other first-year riders? Bailey is a cool kid, has a million stories about growing up in Orlando and the usual Florida names you’re thinking of. Talk to him if you haven’t already, Matthes. 

[Editor’s note: Matthes hates amateurs. – Weege]

18th | Jordon Smith

Right now Smith is the only 250SX East Region rider for Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM, so don’t expect him to hit the sidelines unless this wrist injury starts to become a serious problem or the team can find a replacement. 

Rich Shepherd

One of the four MX2 riders in 2018 that has moved to the U.S. for 2019. Anthony had a very difficult start to his pro career, with lots of crashes, but his time in Europe and a general sense of maturity has kept him on two-wheels more often lately.

20th | Garrett Marchbanks

Atlanta was the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki rookie’s first real SX on a soft track and it sounds like it took some getting used to. Marchbanks doesn’t seem to say much, but Ivan Tedesco has taken on a role as his riding coach and the kid’s life is basically just riding and training in California. 

21st | Kyle Peters

I don’t know what to say about the run-in between Peters and McAdoo. That was just strange, and I didn’t see what led up to it. Peters rides for JGRMX, is a native of North Carolina, and rides at ClubMX from time to time. McAdoo, on the other hand, basically lives at ClubMX. So yeah, these two are going to cross paths at some point and will have to talk this over. 

22nd | Josh Osby

I guess a lot of people get mad at Osby for his impact on their fantasy scores? I don’t know anything about fantasy, but I’m certain that Osby isn’t lining up with intentions of torpedoing someone’s roster. Or maybe he finds it funny and does it on purpose?

Rich Shepherd

It’s pretty common at these 250SX East/West Showdowns for one region to have a lighter entry list when the round is far away, and that’s what happened with the West Coast in Atlanta. Twenty-two West riders made the trek east, so just two of them missed the qualifying cut. Compare that 41 East Region riders that signed up for Atlanta, which meant 21 didn’t make the night show. Many of those 21 East riders that didn’t make the cut clocked quicker laps than West riders that did make the cut, so there were some expected frustrations. But still, this is the fairest way to determine the night show entry list without having a massive impact on the individual championships.

Marshal Weltin took home $1,000 from the Throttle Syndicate Bounty for his fifth-place finish in the 250SX LCQ, while Cianciarulo’s win netted the PC rider $3,000. Giving Weltin the money just seconds after he pulled off the track seemed to soothe the pain of not making the main event. 

With the Kicker Arenacross series complete, double champion Jace Owen and Fredrik Noren made the trip to Atlanta for their first SX of the season. Noren didn’t make the cut for qualifying and Owen was in contention for one of the final transfer spots in the 250 LCQ. Owen should be a steady main event qualifier at the remaining 250SX East rounds.

1st | Cooper Webb

Barring an injury or mechanical issue, this has become Webb’s title to lose. It’s sort of stunning to see a rider turn their career around so much in a short period of time. Webb wasn’t a total lost cause at this point last year, but the buzz was way down compared to his rookie year. Five wins on the year has Webb right back into the conversation as one of the best currently in the sport. Webb’s confidence is as solid as Forkner’s right now.

2nd | Blake Baggett

Baggett probably really wishes there was a throwaway score permitted for one race. The two Anaheim rounds didn’t go great for Baggett, but his DNF at Minneapolis really put the hurt on his point total. At the end of the night, Blake’s dad Tom and I agreed that we are set to see riders ratchet up the intensity in the next few weeks. There are only so many opportunities left to score points and guys aren’t going to be as willing to back it down. 

3rd | Marvin Musquin

Did anyone else see Musquin nearly land on Seely with two laps to go? It could have gone very bad. Seely moved to the far right of the track after the track crew got him with the blue flag, but he didn’t know that was Musquin’s line. The two missed making contact by a very slim margin and Musquin somehow mounted a failed final charge on Baggett for second place. 

4th | Ken Roczen

I’m certain that Roczen is in a contract year, but don’t expect to see him part ways with Honda. Both parties seem very happy, evident with the many advertising campaigns for Honda motorcycles and UTVs that Roczen has taken part in and there’s never been a public dust-up or comment that would indicate tension within the camp. 

Rich Shepherd

His career-best 450SX finish came at the perfect time. Plessinger missed a lot of time in the off-season due to a back injury and has had to race his way into shape and comfort on the bike. At certain moments in the main event, you can see a black and blue bike just off the lead pack. The next few rounds, Daytona/Indianapolis/Seattle, should fare AP well. 

6th | Eil Tomac

Like Roczen, I don’t expect Tomac to leave his team when his contract runs out later this year. I think that Kawasaki is getting plenty of return on investment thanks to Tomac’s multiple wins, quick qualifying times, and all-around buzz, as well as his back-to-back Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship titles. And really, where would he go? JGRMX isn’t going to spring for a rider of his cost, Honda is set with Roczen, Husqvarna has Anderson and Osborne for a few more years, Yamaha has Barcia and Plessinger, and KTM has Webb and Musquin. 

7th | Justin Brayton

Unassuming day for Brayton, who showed speed but was never in the hunt. Brayton’s race win in the Triple Crown race at 2018 Atlanta primed the pump for his Daytona overall win, but the series schedule put one race between the Triple Crown and Daytona this year. Atlanta has become the home race for Brayton and he was in good spirits on Saturday, thanks in part to his wife and daughter’s presence in the pits.

8th | Dean Wilson

After running the black WP Cone Valve 48 forks on his independent bike and the initial races with the factory Husqvarna team, Wilson has switched over to WP’s SX standard setup of Cone Valve 52 forks, which are called XACT. The battle between Wilson, Tomac, and Reed in the early portion of the main event was entertaining because you could see how three very different line choices, body types, and riding styles looked in close proximity to each other.

9th | Joey Savatgy

Savatgy has to be the leading contender for Rookie of the Year honors right now. His heat race, when he reeled in and passed Reed and Tomac in one swoop, was the most notable thing of the night and it shows that he’s not afraid to cut it close on a veteran like Reed or a teammate like Tomac. Kawasaki looks really smart signing Savatgy, but now it’ll be interesting to see what happens when his one-year deal runs out. Does he stay green or does another team nab him?

Jeff Kardas

To go from missing Detroit because of getting hit in the chest by a huge piece of debris to winning a heat race in seven days’ time is solid for Seely. It’s been a year since his bad injury and he’s steadily improving each weekend with a solid qualifying time or good heat race. He hasn’t finished in the top-five yet this year, but that could come as the season winds down.

11th | Justin Hill

After his results last year at select 450 rounds, this season has not gone great for Hill. He was quick in qualifying in the early rounds until crashes at Oakland and San Diego put him on the sidelines, but when he returned it was no different because within a few weeks he was back to being one of the faster riders in practice. A tip over in the heat race and a long main event have to be frustrating for Hill; I know that many people have gotten the impression that he doesn’t care, but my past experiences with him are that he might care too much when things are going wrong. 

12th | Tyler Bowers  

After the San Diego situation, Bowers has helped organize a Saturday morning meeting between riders and Feld. Respect to him for going through the effort, especially after some of the top-level riders that pledged their support pulled back before the first meeting.

13th | Chad Reed

One week off his first podium since 2017, Reed seemed charged up in Atlanta and it showed during the heat race battle with Tomac. Like Weege pointed out on Twitter during the race, Reed is a pro at putting his bike exactly where another rider is thinking of going. If this really is Reed’s last year, I would expect some more pomp and circumstance to the whole tour. Yeah, he keeps mentioning how 2019 could be it but I think we see him back in 2020, especially if he gets another summer to relax with the family and watch racing around the world. Reed seems to enjoy the work aspect of racing a lot and that will be hard for him to replicate in retirement. 

14th | Justin Bogle

Usually a 14th-place finish by a rider of Bogle’s caliber would lead to criticism, but really, I don’t think that Bogle cares right now. Not to say he’s not trying, but with how the last few years have gone for the former 250SX East Region champion, just being healthy and at the races brings a level of satisfaction. Bogle has a different mindset than some of the other guys on the track, so while he’d certainly be happy to finish better, a finish outside the top ten isn’t the end of the world to him.

Rich Shepherd

Look who is back for the final swing of the season! Soubeyras is one of the guys I always have an eye on during the European off-season events because he’s always in the hunt for the French SX Tour title and can run with an unexpecting American at a track like Geneva. Soubeyras wrapped up the Arenacross UK championship in February and is based in Florida in order to train with Hampshire and Wilson.

16th | Mike Alessi

This was what we expected of Mike, right? A good start in his races, some typical trouble in the whoops, but no big crashes or issues and he went basically went strong the full length of the race. Alessi had been hinting at a return to supercross late last year, but his new deal with GDR Honda will take him to Canada for another season. Have to say it was sort of surreal to see him in Fox Racing gear, a brand he wore as an amateur, on a Honda, a brand he was the face of as an amateur.

17th | Kyle Chisholm

Chisholm is one of those guys you know is going to be in the results sheet somewhere. Like Matthes has said, Kyle has done it all, from factory team to motorhome pit stall, so it’s a big peace of mind to be back with a team at this stage in his career. Despite being one of the older guys in the series (he’s 31), he’s never once let on that his career could be winding down. As long as there is a way for Kyle to race, he’ll be there.

Rich Shepherd

LaMay is all-in this year, as he left his job as a Monster Energy rep in Texas to focus on riding full-time. He’s made eight of the nine main events and is the top privateer (Bowers has some factory support with parts like suspension, so…), but with so many factory riders still healthy and in contention for spots in the top-10, LaMay hasn’t received as much attention as usual.

19th | Alex Ray

Left his wallet on the plane during the flight from California to Atlanta, but his parents had made the trip from Tennessee to see him and his dad gave him some walking around money, then he had a three- or four-hour layover in San Francisco on the way back. Typical A-Ray.

20th | Cole Martinez

Matthes did a Privateer Island podcast with Martinez, a rider that funded his U.S. tour by racing in Germany through the first part of the year. A mechanical issue with the bike forced him to DNF in Atlanta. 

21st | Jared Lesher

Yeah, this one’s heat race caught me off guard. In few forms of racing can a virtually unknown line up and duke it out with some of the top names at any given time, then step back like nothing happened. Think if some rec league basketball player crossed up LeBron James at a random game on the road? ESPN would meltdown and he’d have a one-week contract with a team and shoe sponsor.

22nd | Zach Osborne

Tough day for Osborne. He put in the fastest lap of free practice, but then stacked it up in the three-three rhythm during the second session. First-turn issues dropped him down the running order in both races, he posted the fifth-fastest lap time during his run up the pack in the heat race lap and then had an issue with the seat during the main event. This was only his third race in 450SX and there’s no alarm from him or the team.

[Editor’s note: Matthes is waiting for Zacho’s 450 breakout, he doesn’t care about crashes or seats or whatever. –Weege]

Rich Shepherd

Both Reed and Hill have gone away from the intricately machined engine hangers on their RM-Z450s. Instead of the milled pieces that had almost no material in the middle, both of their bikes were built with the bigger, triangle-shaped hangers. 

It was impressive to see how easily a 450 could go three-one before the big triple while the top 250 guys had to work to get over it. Tracks need something to set the two classes apart. 

New gear was debuted by Fox Racing, Shift, O’Neal, and Troy Lee Designs. Daytona used to launch the spring collections, but that’s seemed to fall out of favor due to the drops of limited-edition gear throughout the year. 

Okay, so did I do Observations justice? Sorry that I didn’t have a cargo short or Tim Ferry reference, there was only so much time. It’s rad to hop between titles for right now and I want to say thanks to Matthes, Weege, Chase, and Swap for letting me branch out. Your regular writer will be back in action at Daytona. As always, you can complain to me on Twitter or Instagram, but the most direct line is to email [email protected]